A “ dental gimmick ” is a procedure or a gadget that is used to attract attention, publicity or business without having any significant benefit to the patient.
The Oxford Dictionary defines gimmick as “A trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or business”.
Dental gimmicks can be harmful bin that they distract the patient from receiving proven and effective treatment. Patients are lulled into spending thousands of dollars and months of their time chasing the “latest” device or gadget that is promised to achieve what is unachievable or only achievable through more traditional therapies, to their inevitable disappointment. These unscrupulous methods and promises not only harm their direct victims by denying them proper, timely care; they also distort the image and expectations rest of the public has about the dental health care system.
Unfortunately, due to the current state of the dental market in California, I have noticed a substantial increase in advertisements for various dental gimmicks in the past few years. Much of this can be attributed to celebrities pushing their psuedo-scientific beliefs on television shows such as Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz. One of the most egregious examples is “coconut oil pulling,” which was heavily pushed and marketed by Gwyneth Paltrow.
Last week, I had a patient who was asking for a new German gadget that is supposed to perform periodontal infection treatment without any mechanical means! He argued that this is the greatest thing invented since dental amalgam, but the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) and ADA (American Dental Association) are NOT allowing it in the US!
He went on to say that a dentist he knows from Florida has imported this machine by carrying it into US on himself and is now heavily advertising its virtues! I could not believe what I was hearing. I told him if FDA and ADA are not allowing it to be marketed and sold in the US, it is because it either is unsafe or ineffective for what they want to sell it for, or at least, they have not yet been able to prove its safety and efficacy.
Personally, I do not necessarily trust the welfare of the public to individuals. I happen to be a firm believer of the soundness of collective decisions made by regulatory bodies and peer-reviewed studies. Sure, they are slow to accept a new treatment modality, but that is because it takes time to fully investigate the risks versus the benefits of a device or procedure.
I really do not find it challenging to to choose between FDA and a dentist/smuggler who is using a ‘dental gimmick” to grab a few patients.
In subsequent weeks, I plan to discuss specific dental gimmicks I have come across during the past few years in the hopes that my comments and discussion help my readers make smarter choices for their dental health.